In a palatial old home filled with dead birds and 1960s amenities, 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska: Lawless) is searching for her birthday present. This year the box is empty and her father is a no-show at dinner. India is devastated when she discovers that her father was killed in a car crash.
An odd girl who can’t stand being touched and prefers silent observation to social interaction, India withdrawas even further and ignores her well-meaning but hopelessly superficial mother Evie (Nicole Kidman: The Paperboy).
At the funeral, Dad’s long-lost brother Charlie (Matthew Goode: The Poison Tree) arrives to greet the mourners and announce he’s moving in with the Stoker women.
Soon Charlie is an unwelcome staple in India’s home, following her to school, showing up during her quiet reveries and constantly observing her. He is fascinated by India, but there is something unnerving behind his blinding smile and fixed gaze.
Stoker is a suspense thriller about whether you choose your own path or do as your blood compels. In his English language debut, famed Korean director Chan-wook Park (Thirst) shows off his stunning visual prowess with some amazing camera work. The story, which is heavily influenced both by Hitchcock and Southern gothic movies of the 1960s, is ripe with metaphor and style.
Characters use cell phones and reference the Internet, but the Stoker family seems stuck in 1962. The period fixation is never explained, but it sure looks neat. Choosing style over storytelling is Park’s only failing in Stoker, as some reactions are silly, even in a movie that asks us to suspend reality.
What keeps the film from launching into ridiculous camp is a pair of impressive performances. Wasikowska is a mix of contained rage and deep intelligence. As Charlie, Goode is scary, sexy and funny as well as a natty dresser. Goode keeps Charlie right on the precipice of sinister, as a man with a plan and a talent for getting his way.
If you long for the glory days of horror when Bette Davis and Joan Crawford donned pancake makeup and ran around old shadowy houses, Stoker is well worth a viewing.